Dontaku, originating from the Dutch word Zondag (holiday), is one of Japan’s largest festivals, attracting two million spectators (pre-pandemic). After four years, the event returns to its regular scale, albeit slightly reduced. On May 3 & 4, the festivities commence with the Hakata Matsubayashi procession, which has marked the new year for the past 840 years. Daytime performances across 39 stages follow, and in the evening, illuminated “Flower Cars” (decorated vehicles) parade through the streets.
Date: 5/3 (Wed., hol.), 5/4 (Thu., hol.)
Venue: Fukuoka urban area (Hakata-ku ~ Chuo-ku, Fukuoka City)
Hakata Dontaku 2023 Event Schedule
• Eve of ceremony
5/3 (Wed., hol.)
• Opening Ceremony
5/4 (Thu., hol.)
• Dontaku Flower Marching Bands
• Grand Finale: So Odori
5/3 (Wed., hol.) & 5/4 (Thu., hol.)
• Hakata Matsubayashi Parade
• Dontaku Parades
• Special Guest Parade Groups
• Stage Performances
• Flower Cars
• Hakata-ekimae Dontaku Street
• Origins of Dontaku
• A True Citizen’s Festival
• Hakata Matsubayashi
• Dontaku Symbols
• Dontaku Song
• Flower Cars
• Official Goods
2018 Hakata Dontaku video by Madalina Iosub for Fukuoka Now
Eve of ceremony
As the festival kicks off the next day, the citizens of Fukuoka, the Fukuoka Citizens’ Festival Promotion Association, and other Dontaku supporters will gather to celebrate the opening of Dontaku. The event will commence with a performance by the Police Band and the entrance ceremony of Hakata Matsubayashi. This will be followed by a children’s dance and a performance by the previous year’s winning Dontaku team. The highlight of the evening will be a special guest appearance by singer Masayoshi Yamazaki, beginning at 19:55.
• 5/2 (Tue.): doors open 16:00~ ceremony begins 17:00~20:30
• Venue: Festival main stage (Fureai Hiroba, Fukuoka City Hall)
• Free viewing
The Fukuoka City Mayor, along with festival organizers, makes opening remarks to kick off the festival.
• 5/3 (Wed., hol.)
• Venue: Main stage in front of Hakata Sta. (JR Hakata Sta.)
Hakata Matsubayashi Parade
The origins of this festival date back 840 years, and its essence has remained largely unchanged. The parade is led by three gods of fortune riding on horseback, accompanied by a group of dancing children. You can check the order and current location of Hakata Matsubayashi in real time to keep up with the festivities.
• 5/3 (Wed, hol.), 5/4 (Thu., hol.)
• Venue: Departs from Kushida Shrine (1-41 Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka)
Matsubayashi Festival: Dontaku 2023 – Kick-off event! (May 3, 2023)
The Dontaku teams, dressed in various costumes, will celebrate along the 1,270-meter stretch of Meiji-dori, between Gofuku-machi and Tenjin. You can also enjoy the event by watching the live stream on the official Hakata Dontaku YouTube channel OR even better – watch it with our expert and lively commentary in English on Kyushu Live (YouTube)
• 5/3 (Wed., hol.) 13:05~19:00, 5/4 (Thu., hol.) 14:05~19:00
• Dontaku Hiroba (Gofuku-machi intersection ~ Fukuoka City Hall)
Dontaku Parade 2023 – Fukuoka streets come alive! (May 3, 2023)
Dontaku Flower Marching Bands
Marching bands of students, companies and government agencies perform.
• 5/4 (Thu., hol.)
• Venue: Festival main stage (Fureai Hiroba, Fukuoka City Hall)
Special Guest Parade Groups
Festivals from Kurume, Shimabara, the Michinoku area, as well as international participants from Thailand and Indonesia, will join the parade at “Dontaku Plaza.” This event serves as an opportunity for cultural exchange as festivals from around the country and abroad come together to celebrate.
• 5/3 (Wed, hol.), 5/4 (Thu, hol.)
• Venue: Dontaku Hiroba (Meiji-dori Ave.)
• Parade schedule
Hakata-ekimae Dontaku Street
Bitesize Hakata versions of the Dontaku parades, traveling 150 m from Hakata-ekimae 2-chome Intersection towards the river.
• 5/3 (Wed., hol.): 10:00~11:30, 5/4 (Thu., hol.): 10:00~13:00
• Venue: Hakata Ekimae-dori
• Program: https://www.dontaku.fukunet.or.jp/view/dontaku-street/
Three vibrantly decorated large trucks, known as “Flower Cars,” will cruise through the city, brilliantly illuminated at night. In 2023, there will be three themed vehicles: one celebrating the 15th anniversary of nimoca, a transportation system IC card; another featuring Detective Conan, in honor of the latest movie release; and the last one showcasing the Softbank Hawks & Avispa, both active sports teams in Fukuoka. You can track the current location of these flower cars using the “Nishitetsu Flower Car Navi”
• 5/2 (Tue.) ~ 5/4 (Thu., hol.)
• 5/2: 15:55~19:55, 5/3: 10:30~20:30, 5/4: 10:25~20:50
• Route: Around the Fukuoka City
• Operation Course: https://www.nishitetsu.jp/livingservice/hanaji/course/
• Nishitetsu Flower Car Navi: https://www.nishitetsu.jp/livingservice/hanaji/
Groups participate in traditional and contemporary music, dance, song, and other performances at 39 stages around the city.
• 5/3 (Wed., hol.), 5/4 (Thu., hol.)
• Hours vary according to each performance
• Stage map
Grand Finale: So Odori
The Dontaku festival culminates with the “So Odori” dance, inviting the public to jump in and join the fun. Let’s come together and share the excitement!
• 5/4 (Thu. hol.)
• Venue: Gofuku-machi, Nakasu-Kawabata, Suijo Park (head office), Dontaku Hiroba
Hakata Dontaku Trivia
Origins of Dontaku
The name Dontaku comes from the Dutch word for holiday (Zondag).
The origins of Hakata Dontaku can be traced back 840 years to the establishment of the Matsubayashi Parade. This has since developed into a fun celebration that is organized by Hakata locals. The event later became known as the Fukuoka Shimin Matsuri (Citizen’s Festival) since 1962.
Matsubayashi and Dontaku were suspended for eight years during the Second World War. However, the events resumed in 1946 soon after the end of the war to help rejuvenate Fukuoka. It is said that the sound of people marching through the rubble helped restore confidence among the locals. The following year, the Fukuoka Chamber of Commerce and Industry helped organize the first full-scale post-war Dontaku Festival.
A True Citizen’s Festival
On May 3 and 4 this area buzzes with activity when about 650 groups of paraders and performers, totalling more than 33,000 people, participate in Dontaku. Groups and individuals from all over Kyushu descend on Fukuoka to join these parades: local citizens’ associations, schools, private companies, small businesses, marching bands and drum majorettes – all dancing freely in the street while showcasing their unique costumes and talents. Several international groups will share their own cultures whilst marching in the parades. This inclusion of overseas visitors fits very well with Dontaku’s current theme – celebrating Japan’s diversity – and is an occasion for people from all walks of life to meet and wish each other well.
While the highlight of the festival may be the two parades, Dontaku includes a variety of other entertainment, including floats, nighttime illuminations, food stalls and stage shows. Around 30 stages are erected throughout the city, an opportunity for thousands of people to take turns performing traditional dances, folk songs and contemporary music. Closing the two-day festival are rousing renditions of the Dontaku dance that spectators are invited to participate in. The intriguing mix of ancient traditions and modern exuberance make Dontaku a festival unlike any other in Kyushu – a unique blend of past and present, much like Japan itself!
This parade is the origin of the festival – it hasn’t changed much in 840 years! It departs at 8:50 from Kushida Shrine on May 3 (Fri.) and May 4 (Sat.). This colorful procession is led by three gods of fortune riding on horseback: Fukurokuju (god of long life), Ebisu (god of business) and Daikoku (god of wealth). They’re accompanied by a group of dancing children, who, in case the gods get above themselves, sing the special festival chant ‘iitate.’ In their wake follow thousands of local people in traditional dress, all performing the Matsubayashi custom of greeting each other through song and dance. This procession has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages and has been designated an Intangible Cultural Property by Fukuoka Prefecture. This group also leads the main Dontaku Parade on May 4.
The Dontaku Festival might not conjure up images as iconic as July’s Yamakasa Festival (no loincloths here!), yet some images are closely associated with it. The following three items in particular can be found on many Dontaku tourist brochures, magazine covers and souvenirs, making them unofficial Dontaku symbols.
Shamoji: All throughout the parade participants can be seen clapping these spoons to the beat of traditional music. But how exactly did an ordinary Japanese kitchen utensil, used to stir and serve rice, end up in this festival? The explanation goes that the shamoji evokes the image of a housewife busy preparing a meal, rushing out to join the passing parade!
Niwaka Mask: This mask is used in Hakata Niwaka, a style of traditional improvisational comedy performed at festivals. The term niwaka itself is said to stem from a local rice cracker brand called Niwaka Senbei, which contained a half mask in its box to be put on during niwaka performances. This way the comedian, who poked fun at established social conventions in witty Hakata dialect, could cleverly hide his identity from those he satirized!
Photo: Fukuoka Convention & Visitors Bureau
Flower Hat: While the festival sports a huge variety of groups, each with their favorite costumes, one outfit choice that recurs often is the hanakasa, or flower hat. The origin of the flower hat is unknown – but what fashionable girl wouldn’t want to crown her cap with roses?
The Dontaku theme song “Bonchikawaiya” has seven verses but we’ve limited ourselves to including just the first one. Sing along as the parade passes and stun the locals with your knowledge of all things Dontaku!
“Bonchi Kawaiya Nenneshiya
Shinagawajoroshu wa Jumonme
Jumonme no Teppodama
Tamaya ga kawa e Supponpon”
If you’re interested, read about the history of the Dontaku song here!
The parades of gorgeously decorated Flower Cars, hana jidosha, form an integral part of the Dontaku festivities. Three vehicles, each decorated with about 10,000 artificial flowers, approx. 1,200 LED and original designs that change every year, animate the festival atmosphere. Originally, tramways were used, but they were replaced by automobiles when tram service was suspended in 1977. At night the cars, illuminated by so many bulbs, are a splendid sight.
Car No. 1: nimoca
Car No. 2: Detective Conan The Movie
Car No. 3: Hawks & Avispa
Seasoned foreigners who’ve visited many matsuri have doubtlessly already acquainted themselves with Japanese festival fare. For those less familiar with these culinary delights, here are three local favorites.
Ringo-ame: Visitors with a sweet tooth won’t be able to resist the promised sugar high of these candied apples on a stick, coated with a hot red syrup that dries hard. The result is a translucent, bright red glaze, a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds! Other versions such as ichigo-ame (glazed strawberries) are on offer in season. Don’t break your teeth!
Ikayaki: This grilled squid snack, marinated in a sugary soy sauce, is great for munching on as you walk through the streets. Don’t take too much time chewing though – its texture becomes rubbery as it cools, making it hard work for your jaw!
Hashimaki: A type of okonomiyaki (savory pancake) popular at festivals is hashimaki – literally translated as “chopstick roll”. The okonomiyaki is served rolled (maki) around a pair of chopsticks (hashi) and topped with mayonnaise, seaweed flakes (nori) and fish flakes (katsuo). It’s eaten much like a corndog and is easy to enjoy on the go.
Original Dontaku goods will be on sale, such as special Dontaku edition Hakata wood charms (kifuda), folding fans (sensu) designed by well-known, Hakata-born graphic designer Isao Nishijima, writing paper (ippitsusen) and more. Great for souvenirs!
• Fukuoka Citizen’s Festival, 50th Anniversary book: ¥2,500 (limit 500 books)
• Original Hakata wood charm (kifuda): ¥500/pc
• Writing paper (ippitsusen): ¥300/pc
• Illustrated postcards: ¥450/set (5 pcs.)
• Hand towel (tenugui): ¥500/pc
• Wooden spoon (shamoji) w/ illustration: ¥1,000/set (2 pcs.)
• Wooden spoon (shamoji) w/ burnt seals: ¥500/set (2 pcs.)
• Original folding fan (sensu): ¥2,000/pc
• Hakata Dontaku Festival Original CD: ¥1,000
• Lucky bag (fukubukuro): ¥500/set
• Hakata playing cards (karuta): ¥2,160/set
Sold during the festival period at the Dontaku information counters in the following locations: JR Hakata Station and ACROS Fukuoka
• Sales hours: 5/3 11:00~19:00, 5/4, 10:00~18:00
2012 Dontaku video by Dennis Medvevchikov for Fukuoka Now
Organizer: Fukuoka Citizens’ Festival Promotion Association (Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Fukuoka Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Follow the official Twitter account for the latest updates and information as needed.
Originally written in April 2016, updated April 2023.
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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in Apr. 2016.